Profits down in publishing, broadcasting units

Tribune Co. posted a $15.6 million loss for the first quarter of 2007, with operating profit down sharply in its publishing and broadcasting divisions amid the continued migration of advertising dollars to the Internet and other digital platforms.

The Chicago-based owner of 11 major dailies and 23 TV stations agreed earlier this month to be taken private in an $8.2 billion buyout led by Chi real estate magnate Sam Zell, pending shareholder approval. Tribune has said it expects to hold a special shareholders meeting to vote on the transaction in August or September. The company’s regularly skedded annual shareholders confab is set for May 9 in Chicago.

Trib’s first-quarter numbers were dragged down mostly by accounting charges and writedowns related to declines in stocks held by the company, higher interest expenses related to the stock repurchase program the company launched last year and other nonoperating items.

Company took a $49 million after-tax charge to adjust the value of certain stock holdings and derivatives, most of them Time Warner shares, compared with an $8 million after-tax charge in the first quarter of 2006. Tribune also took a $33 million writedown on the sale of two southern Connecticut newspapers, the (Stamford) Advocate and Greenwich Time, announced in March.

Tribune’s revenue for the quarter was $1.21 billion, off 4.3% vs. a year earlier. Operating profit dropped 16.3% to $181.4 million.

In the publishing unit, which includes the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune newspapers, revenue was down 5.5% from the same period last year to $931.4 million, while operating profit dropped 17.7% to $139.7 million. Advertising revenue for the newspapers dropped 6%, or $47 million, for the quarter.

On the broadcasting and entertainment side of the ledger, revenue was little changed from the year-ago period at $283 million but operating profit was down 9% to $61.3 million. Tribune brass noted that revenue at the company’s three largest TV stations, WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles and WGN Chicago, improved during the quarter despite the lack of the political advertising dollars that helped buoy the stations in the first quarter last year.

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